Keefe targeting a confident start as Giants seek cup ignition
Head coach Adam Keefe is looking forward to getting the chance to take his side out of league action and into knockout ice hockey as the Belfast Giants return to Challenge Cup action tonight.
Keefe's side welcome rivals the Cardiff Devils to the SSE Arena (face-off 7.30pm) for the first leg of their quarter-final as the defence of their title reaches the play-off stages for the first time.
In some ways, the Giants are lucky to even be this far into the competition given they needed a Liam Reddox strike just 12 seconds from the end of their game against the Glasgow Clan back in October to scrape into the knockouts in third place in their group.
But now they're there and looking forward to the tie, Keefe is urging his team to forget their inconsistent league form and instead go on a cup run to make up for it.
"I'm excited to see this team in a play-off match because we've proven when we come in with the right mindset and we start on time and attack from the get go, we can be a dangerous team," said Keefe, who has won the Challenge Cup in both of his first two years as a coach.
"When we come out a bit flat, or we're on our heels and they get the first goal, it's tough for us to regain that lead. We haven't chased very well."
The Giants currently own the early season bragging rights against their rivals after they won both games of their double-header at the Viola Arena at the end of November.
Since then, however, Cardiff have gone on a four-game winning streak that has seen them move second in the Elite League with the best win percentage.
It's also the first time this roster have played a game under the aggregate system used for the knockouts, but the players insist it won't be a problem.
"We know Cardiff's a real good team and they're going to want vengeance after we went into their building and won a couple games," says centre Brian Ward.
"We'll be ready for it.
"The aggregate score is something a bit different but we're going in with the mindset of winning both games."
It's also a chance for the Giants to get back on track after Saturday's shut-out against the Sheffield Steelers at home without the pressure of league points being on the line.
Liam Morgan believes the team have to keep sticking to the process in order to get back to having success as a squad.
"We've just got to keep doing what we do best," says the winger.
"It's an advantage starting at home, if we come out well and have a good start, get a good lead heading to Cardiff.
"It'll come back eventually, and no better way to get over it than in a play-off game."
• Former Giants winger and Ireland international Gareth Roberts is the latest player announced for Mark Garside's testimonial on February 11.